BookBrowse Reviews Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

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Wizard of the Crow

A Novel

by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2006, 784 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2007, 784 pages

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Informed by richly enigmatic traditional African storytelling, Wizard of the Crow is a masterpiece, the crowning achievement in Ngugi wa Thiong'o's career thus far. Novel

Ngugi wa Thiong'o is a Kenyan teacher, novelist, essayist, and playwright, whose writing spans the period from British colonialism to the current day. His early works were written in English, which he later abandoned in favor of Gikuyu, his native tongue.  Although he no longer writes in English he still translates his books into English himself.  Wizard of the Crow, a vast, sprawling, satirical allegory written in 6 parts, took about 10 years to write and two years to translate.  Critics knowledgeable of his writing have declared it to be his magnus opus.

Speaking in an interview last year Wa Thiong'o commented, "When people talk about Africa, they often only talk about it through one lens - so they blame its lack of progress on its people, or its landscape. In this book I wanted to show everything - the influence of aid, the neocolonialism of capital, and how this affects things for the people."

Some reviewers feel that Wizard is overly long, overly repetitious and a tad didactic.  When read from an English/Western perspective there is some justification for this viewpoint, but it should be remembered that the book was not written in a Western language or, in the first instance, for a Western audience, but for a Kenyan audience still familiar with the oral tradition - in Kenya, Wa Thiong'o's works are often read aloud over a period of (many) days.

Did you know?
When Ngugi wa Thiong'o and his second wife, Njeeri, returned to Kenya in 2004, twenty-four years after he left fearing for his safety (see sidebar) it was for two happy reasons; to promote his new book Murogi wa Kagogo (Wizard of the Crow) and to formalize his marriage to Njeeri with a traditional wedding ceremony. He felt it safe to return as his old enemy, President Daniel arap Moi, who had been instrumental in throwing him into prison in 1977, had eventually been forced to step down from power in 2004 (although some of the habits of Aburiria's leader recall those of Daniel arap Moi, Thiong'o insists that he drew his character  from lots of Third World dictatorships including Mobutu, Idi Amin and Pinochet).

Their trip started wonderfully; wa Thiong'o describes his arrival at the airport where he was met by crowds "some weeping, some holding onto books".  His wife adds, "some of the books were covered in dirt .... because they had to bury them - to hide them - when his books were banned."  However, only three days later things went horribly wrong when intruders broke into their apartment and  raped Njeeri in front of her husband.  When he tried to intervene they burned him with cigarettes.

On leaving hospital together a day later, Ngugi issued a powerful and humane statement, "We have to keep rising up. The Kenyans who attacked me do not represent the spirit of the new Kenya." Messengers soon arrived to warn Njeeri against speaking out, but neither she nor her husband would comply.  Wa Thiong'o was not to be silenced 24 years ago, and he's not to be silenced now!

After the violence, his publisher suspended the book tour and his speaking engagements, but in late August the traditional wedding ceremony of Ngugi and Njeeri took place in the dusty village of Mitero in Kenya's Central Province. Speaking during the ceremony Ngugi said, "There are two things you can never shed: your age-group and your culture."

This review was originally published in November 2006, and has been updated for the August 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



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